Royal Festival Hall – until 5 July 2019
Reviewed by Claire Roderick
This gorgeously nostalgic musical is an uplifting treat, full of romance and humour. Margaret (Renée Fleming) has returned to Italy, where she spent her honeymoon, with her daughter Clara (Dove Cameron). A chance encounter in a Florentine piazza sees Clara falling head over heels in love with Fabrizio (Rob Houchen). His family welcome Clara with open arms and are soon organising a wedding, but Margaret is keeping a secret about Clara and her childlike innocence and joy, and debates whether to tell them the truth about Clara’s childhood brain injury.
Craig Lucas’s book doesn’t really dwell on the serious issues around Clara’s emotional and intellectual acuity, instead Margaret voices her concern but keeps hoping that maybe Clara can live independently and happily with her new Italian family. The message of hope and true love banishes any shade in this piazza. This may bother some people, but this show is a lushly lit, gorgeously costumed and ultimately light-hearted romance that doesn’t pretend to be hard-hitting or realistic. Just sit back and let the story and the beautiful music wash over you.
Adam Guettel’s music is heavenly – a soaring mix of light opera and Broadway ballads, all played perfectly by the orchestra conducted by Kimberly Grigsby. Renée Fleming is magnificent as Margaret, with pristine vocals and a lovely light touch conveying Margaret’s fears and frustrations, especially during her trans-Atlantic phone calls with her husband (a fabulously gruff Malcolm Sinclair). Dove Cameron makes a delightful Clara, with impressive vocals and subtle clues to Clara’s disability before the big reveal. Rob Houchen steals the show as the sweet and wide-eyed Fabrizio with his stunning vocals. After each of his numbers, there were satisfied sighs and quiet “wows” from everyone around me – an incredible performance.
A perfect midsummer pick-me-up for hopeless romantics and music lovers.